Written by: Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District
As we head into the summer, quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs will spend much of the next three months enrolling and traveling to various 7-on-7 passing camps, to hone their skills for the upcoming football season this fall.
However, the kids who play along the offensive line – who are almost always the most overlooked players on the team in general – won’t have such travel plans. By definition, 7-on-7 football is football played without any blocking up front; it’s football without the guys who play in the trenches.
In general, 7-on-7 football is a reflection of a trend we’re seeing all over the amateur ranks, which is starting to become a major problem at the professional level: the marginalization of offensive line play. Offensive linemen are being marginalized in general, in favor of the positions and parts of the play that generate the most interest in fans: passing plays, and scoring.
That’s what’s lead to the proliferation of 7-on-7 passing camps all over the nation – to better develop this part of the game. You’ll find a vast array of 7-on-7 passing camps all over the nation, hosted by various private organizations, and colleges who say they’re putting on these camps to help develop the players who compete in them, but have something of an ulterior motive in that they’re using said camps to get a closer look at these players for recruiting purposes.
What you won’t find, however, is the same types of camps for offensive linemen. By nature, 7-on-7 football is essentially glorified flag football, if not the game you grew up playing in the sandlot: a lot of throwing, catching and running, but no blocking.
Further, these 7-on-7 passing offenses mimic the basic nature of the spread offenses we’re seeing at the high school and college offenses. By nature, the spread offense is designed to attack opposing offenses with speed- and space-based plays. So an offensive lineman coming from a spread offense will likely spend the majority of their time in a two-point stance (meaning they’re standing on two feet without their hand on the ground), and usually not asked to drop back more than a few steps off the snap, so that they can quickly react and move the defender out of the way (based off the zone blocking scheme), depending on whether the play is a run or a pass.
In “pro-style” offenses, linemen are more often in a three-point stance (with one hand on the ground), and usually asked to run much more diverse and nuanced blocking schemes, so that they’re better able to combat the more sophisticated defensive schemes run at the pro level as well.
These issues have caused a serious issue in the overall level of offensive line play. In his 2016 book titled A View from the O-Line, long-time NFL offensive line coach Howard Mudd lamented that college offensive linemen are ill-prepared to make the adjustment to the NFL, and that “it takes [NFL coaches] two years to coach them” (to a point where they’re reliably ready to play).
The proliferation of the spread offense in college has completely changed the way the game is played at all levels of organized football. High school coaches, who are just as much focused on getting their players to the best possible colleges as they are winning football games, have begun to implement spread-based offensive schemes, to help their players be more college-ready. So now, these players – including offensive linemen – are lacking the true fundamentals of true offensive line play from the very beginning. We’re now at the point where professional teams, and even colleges, are beginning to overvalue an offensive lineman’s athleticism, as opposed to their ability to perform the basic responsibility of an offensive lineman: blocking.
Unfortunately, high-scoring games will attract a lot more fan attention than games where the offensive line dominates an opponent. So until we start seeing this trend as a problem as a whole, nobody will be coming up with a solution for this.